Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

20191025_145944

The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

20191025_151352

The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

20191025_150159

Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

20191025_145921

Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

20191025_150910

Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

20191025_152510

Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

20191025_152738

20191025_153022

20191025_153554

Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

20191025_153648

20191025_153913

20191025_153951

The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)

 

We Spent Six Hours At The National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has a rich and colourful history, and it’s chronicled incredibly well at the National Museum in Bangkok.  From the early days of its ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na and Ayutthaya to the more modern eras under the Rama kings, the museum offers visitors a look into the history and various facets of what makes up Thailand today – and it’s absolutely fascinating. N and I spent six hours exploring the vast museum grounds, and would have spent more if it wasn’t for the fact that we had other items on our itinerary to go to :’D

20191025_093501

The museum was about 1.5 kilometres from our hostel in Rambuttri, and it was packed with tourists, locals and students, despite being a weekday. From the outside, the museum didn’t look very large, but there were actually many buildings within. There was an entrance fee of 200 baht (RM27) for foreigners.

20191025_100012

Our timing was excellent as the museum was running a temporary exhibition, “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and Terracotta Warriors” during our visit. The showcase included historical artefacts and items from the rule of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, some of which were flown in from Xi’an.

QSH was a bit of an obsessive personality and during his lifetime, drank mercury in an attempt to prolong his life (mercury was believed to be the secret to immortality back then). When he died (presumably from mercury poisoning), he was entombed in a necropolis, complete with 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors. The mausoleum, which was designed as a reflection of a palace / city so that QSH could continue ruling in the afterlife,  has never been fully excavated due to fears of possible damage.

20191025_101615

Although it said ‘life-sized’, I felt like the sculptures were actually taller than normal, averaging about eight feet.

The original statues that were discovered were actually coated in paint, so they weren’t all grey and dull looking. The paint evaporated into the air after the mausoleum was excavated.

 

 

20191025_101146

Terracotta horse-drawn chariot.

Beyond just his odd practices of drinking mercury and burning books, SHD was an extraordinary figure who united China’s many warring factions under one banner. The exhibition also detailed this, explaining the economic and political reforms that took place during his rule, as well as cultural and historical impact that can still be felt two millennia later.  On display to tell the narrative was advanced weaponry, decorative statues, household items, ritual objects, and more.

20191025_101228

A distinctive stone armour worn by soldiers, made up of hundreds of interlinked stone pieces connected by bronze wire to offer more flexibility.

20191025_102335

Decorative / ritual objects in the shapes of farm animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep; or scenes from everyday life like a rice mill, shrines and small houses.

20191025_103740

N was fascinated, and I had to literally drag him out to the main courtyard (lest we stay there the entire day). We next ventured into the Buddhaisawan Chapel. Built in the early 18th century, the main hall houses one of the most sacred Buddhist images in all of Thailand, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

The vast hall had sleek wooden floors, with a red ceiling and walls decorated with images of the Devas, as well as old paintings telling Buddha’s story. Some of these were faded with age and were difficult to discern, but you could still see the meticulous attention to detail poured into creating each one.

20191025_104308

20191025_104814

20191025_105718

The entrance to Buddhaisawan Chapel is guarded by garudas – mythical creatures in Buddhist and Hindu mythology that sport avian and human features.

20191025_105847

Another building you can check out within the museum is the vibrant-looking The Red House. Constructed from teak, it was originally the private living quarters of a princess. Today, it houses items used by royals in the past, including those of Queen Sri Suriyenda.

20191025_111113

A beautiful gold pavilion with intricate decorative features and exquisite detailing on the ceiling.

20191025_112418

The halls within the museum seemed to go on forever – there were just so many things to see. There were sections dedicated to Buddhist art from Thailand and neighbouring regions, the evolution of the country’s monetary system and currency, paintings, weaponry, clothing worn by royals, palanquins which were used to mount onto the backs of elephants, war drums, dioramas and much more.

 

20191025_112806

Royal throne. The colour gold is prevalent in Thai colour, as it is an important colour in both Buddhist and Thai culture.

20191025_115307

Life-sized replica of an elephant with a palanquin strapped to its back. Elephants are the national animal of Thailand.

20191025_115953

20191025_120011

Students writing notes down as they observe a diorama, complete with war elephants, cavalry, foot soldiers and archers

20191025_123346

Thai royals were a fashionable lot, with ceremonial and everyday costumes featuring rich fabrics, elegant colours, beautiful detailing and patterns, and slim silhouettes.

20191025_121812

Everyone likes beautiful things – and there were sections detailing Thai art, such as how artisans apply mother of pearl to everything from furniture to sword scabbards; as well as a section for enamel pottery.

20191025_124511

20191025_132114

Another impressive section was a hall containing numerous royal funeral chariots. Built from teak, the chariots were ornately carved, painted and gilded in gold, with mythical / religious figures and decorative fixtures such as nagas and devas.

Thais have deep respect for their royalty (they have some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws), and they revere them as much in death as they do in life. When a member of the royal family passes, the chariots are pulled by hundreds of men in a parade down the streets with the urn carrying the ashes of the deceased royal sitting atop a tall roofed shrine.

20191025_132404

20191025_132439

Grand send off.

The Bangkok National Museum is, by far, one of the most impressive museums I have been to in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you love history and culture. Allocate at least half a day for the place if you’re planning to have a more in-depth experience.

BANGKOK NATIONAL MUSEUM 

Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 4PM (closed on Mon – Tues)

 

What To Do At Khao San Road: Bangkok’s Backpacker Mecca

So after years of incredulous looks whenever I tell friends I’ve never been to Bangkok (“but it’s so near!”), I finally got to visit Asia’s City of Angels, The Big Mango; or more notoriously, Sin City. It was a short trip and we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer – but N and I enjoyed our time here immensely. Now I see why everyone was like “why haven’t you been to Bangkok yet?!”

Bangkok at night 01 (MK)
Mathias Krumbholz [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We didn’t do much research prior to going (a mistake seasoned travellers should avoid!) so I wasn’t sure which area would be a good place to stay. Bangkok is a huge city, divided into many subdivisions, each with its own attractions and experiences. We were on a budget so I picked the cheapest accommodation I could find that wasn’t a hostel. I found one near Khao San Road, a backpacker’s paradise. The only problem? We aren’t exactly party people, so I wasn’t sure what we could do around the place. Turns out, plenty.

Bangkok, like Kuala Lumpur, has two major airports: Don Mueang, which services low-cost airlines, and Suvarnabhumi, which is about 20 km away. Traffic can get pretty bad in the city so always allocate plenty of time going to and from the airport.

HOW TO GET TO KHAO SAN ROAD from DON MUEANG AIRPORT 

The night before we were due to depart for Bangkok, I scoured various websites for info, but there seemed to be no easy way to get to Khao San from Don Mueang. If you’re landing at Suvarnabhumi, things are much easier as there is an airport rail that goes directly to the city centre. The worst case scenario (for our budget, anyway) was to take a taxi (900 baht (!!!) (RM 121) from the official taxi stand inside the airport).

I wasn’t about to spend a good chunk of the money I brought for one taxi ride, so I stubbornly went to the tourist information counter to ask if there was any other way to get there. Lo and behold – the airport runs shuttle buses to various tourist-centric areas within the city ! The A4 bus would take us directly to Khaosan Road and it only costs …. 50 baht! (RM6.77). That’s like a 95% cheaper alternative! 

20191024_144751

The A4 bus runs every 30 minutes. You need to wait for it at the airport’s Exit 6, which is just after arrivals. If you have a lot of luggage, this might not be the best mode of transport since you’ll have to lug it on and off the bus, then up to wherever your hotel is.

The coach was air conditioned, clean and cosy. We got on around 2-ish, and it was quite empty so we had a lot of space to ourselves. From the airport, it took us about an hour to reach Khao San Road.

20191024_171229

We hopped off near Banglamphu, because our hotel/hostel was actually on Soi Rambuttri, just off Khao San Road. Rambuttri is a good place for people on a budget who want to be close to the action, but not at the centre of it. The place is much quieter, with a quaint hipster vibe. The streets are well paved, there is very little traffic except for the occasional bike or trike or two, and there are loads of shops that mirror the ones you find at Khao San, but with less crowd.

20191024_171415

Rambuttri is known for its chill cafes, bars and restos, with large and shady trees and greenery.

 

20191024_171533

There are street stalls as well, peddling souvenirs, cheap clothing, bags, shoes, and more.

20191024_171801

Street massages are a thing. No one bats an eyelid if you’re reclined in full double-chin glory with your feet exposed by the side of the road. An hour-long foot massage will set you back around 250 – 300 baht.

20191024_173354

Exploring the Banglamphu area

20191024_174055

We took a short cut that ran through a covered area, which had more souvenir shops and massage parlours, but also some interesting gems like indie bookstores

20191024_181142

Cue N pushing me past this 2nd hand bookstore really quickly lest I stop to look (after which he wouldn’t be able to get me out of there again)

20191024_174103

Souvenirs for sale. Many sold the standard stuff like fridge magnets and T-shirts saying “I Love Thailand”, but there were also some interesting pieces like paintings, decorative wall hangings and handmade items.

20191024_175230

Finally emerging into the 400-metre-long Khao San Road, we were greeted by dozens, if not hundreds of signages proclaiming various services, from bars and massage parlours to jewellery stores, fashion and retail centres, tattoo studios, restaurants, money changers and supermarkets. Not to mention the many street stalls selling food and clothes on the pedestrian-only main thoroughfare. Loud music blasted from every corner, vendors shouting cheap beer! massage! exotic show! party! fun! It seemed like if you had the money for it, you could find anything along Khao San Road.

20191024_174654

Bangkok’s famous tuk-tuk 

20191024_174810

Khao San felt like a riot on the senses. The swirling colours, the different faces from all walks of life in every shape, colour and size, the smell of barbecued meat and steaming corn wafting into the air, whole barbecued crocodiles and exotic insects on sale, touts shouting “Ping Pong Show!” while holding up placards of sexy women, open air bars where the music was so loud the ground felt like it was shaking slightly.

There were tall blonde Westerners dressed in strappy spaghetti tops laughing boisterously over drinks as they flirted with the tanned, handsome bartenders, petite Thai college girls giggling with their friends as they checked out merchandise, young local women clinging to the arms of older white men, old Japanese tourists, families, students. An essayist once wrote that Khao San was a ‘place to disappear’, and she wasn’t wrong.

20191024_175820

20191024_174726

Even the McDonalds here has a Thai flavour ! (pun)

It was fun for awhile to observe the goings-on at Khao San, but also draining for introverts like N and I lol. We retreated back to the Rambuttri area for dinner. Popped into one of the nicer restaurants, which was still reasonably priced.

20191024_183408

Can’t come to Bangkok and not have a coconut shake

20191024_183432

Cheese-filled wontons

20191024_183556

Chicken tom yum for that spicy kick

 

20191024_183635

Gotta pad thai like a basic tourist. It was great though!

Me to waitress: I don’t want beansprouts.

*Waitress does not understand.*

Me: You know, the long white things.. vegetables

20191024_193823

Walking back to our hotel we came across this souped up van that was converted into a mobile bar, with seats on the pavement and a TV installed into the boot. If you like your alcohol, I think you’d be very happy at Rambuttri / Khao San.

20191024_195325

There was still some time to kill so we had a massage (in the shop rather than on the street). Wasn’t much in terms of privacy as everyone was chatting away, but still relaxing.

20191024_205806

Ended the night with a banana nutella pancake!

FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA 

Thanks for reading! I’m trying to grow my social media, so any likes and follows will be appreciated! You’ll also be updated on what I’m up to on a daily basis. 🙂

facebook.com/erisgoesto 

twitter.com/erisgoesto 

instagram.com/erisc.mogol